Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's been ten years...

Early evening. One of my favorite times of day.

Two anniversaries: I started writing this blog in 2007. It is ten years old. In Internet terms that is about 1,000! It grew from my first not very good photos, taken with a series of small, much loved Canon point and shoots. Hi tech, in those days. But these pocket sized creatures led to an almost obsessive interest in digital documentation and to a level of confidence I had never felt until then. The cameras were somehow a screen and filter, letting me move through the world without worrying as much about what it thought of me. I created the blog in a year that had begun very badly for me, where I was so despondent that I was prescribed anti depressants by a shrink who should have known better (he said he would not treat me if I was not on them. I never went back and ditched the pills after four weeks - I'm not saying they are not important for some people, but they were not what I needed, then. I needed someone to listen). A few weeks later I began to write.

My interest in photography led, a couple of months after I began blogging, to the Frenchman, who was waiting and waving at me from the west coast of this huge continent, in Vancouver, BC. Our July emails set off an electrical storm that culminated in his touchdown at Newark Liberty International that September. Four months later we were married.

I know. It's an old story. But I like telling it.

This blog, and its offshoots, on Facebook and now evolving on Instagram, led to new friendships, locally and across the globe, and these have enriched my life in innumerable ways, personally and professionally. My work changed, my skills improved, I was and remain challenged and inspired by what comes to me via 66 Square Feet.

Happy birthday, blog. You saved me.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The time of the lilies

The day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva, the orange ones on the left) have just come to and end. We ate quite a lot of them! Very helpful for recipe testing. 

Now the Nicotiana mutabilis and agastache are flanking the big flush of July trumpet lilies.  On the right are 'Summer Palace' not liking the New York heat and humidity, I suspect. Their promised pink is quite washed out. June belonged to the elegant Lilium 'Regale' and also to the pure white Formosas (some are still blooming in pots)  - the latter were hit hardest by our early spring freeze and only a few survived. 

'Silk Road', so disdained the first time I received it as a bonus bulb from the peerless Lily Garden in Washington state, is now the flower I will always associate with my New York gardens. Our lease has just been renewed for another year (I was holding my breath), but there will be other gardens. Who knows where.

'Silk Road' is tough and striking and reliable and tall.

And she smells good.

These, above, are about six feet three inches tall.

The agastache escort. 

The delicate turks caps of 'Madam Butterfly' are lovely. I should have planted them in pots, I think, as they are a bit lost in the jungle of the side beds.

And echinacea - this one a gift, now well established, from either Kirstin or Julia, both neighborhood friends with green fingers.

These are...what? They have 'Ice Caves' written all over them but emailed orders yield no confirmation; I am going to have to scratch through my saved printed invoices to check. 

And 'Silver Scheherazade.' Tall and late blooming and needing some staking.

Like me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The June Garden

I skipped so many spring blog posts of the garden (tagged on Instagram as #1stPlaceBK) that I realized I'd better post something early summerish before August. It's not for lack of interest. I am just perpetually five items behind on my To Do list, and blogging comes very last, right now. It's an indulgence, timewise, which I miss. Today I managed to cross off bottling seven quarts of linden flower, elder and honeysuckle cordials, two quarts of flower vinegars, processing 10 lbs of serviceberries, staking 27 lilies (how is that possible?) and the tall nicotianas before a big storm front hit, and building a small bamboo trellis for the scarlet runner beans I planted (with hummingbirds in mind). Still five items behind. So I'm blogging. That was not on the list.

Early summer and the oakleaf hydrangea (above, center) is in full bloom, with the bees ecstatic about it. Honeybees and carpenter bees visit and can barely stagger away with their fat pollen sacs. The hostas have begun to flower. Their crisp, sculptural leaves are a lifesaver in the pots close to the house, where they receive some sun in the mornings in midsummer, but none later and earlier in the year.

One plant of Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo,' dating back to the Harlem terrace, has now filled five pots. It spreads quickly and is a very good filler for semi shady spots. It flowers prolifically from mid May to mid June. Beside it is a small-leafed Heuchera, which might be Heuchera sanguinea 'Snow Storm.' Behind them are Ligularia japonica, whose huge leaves add interest to the tricky western side of the garden dominated by the ivy wall. Very shady until late in the day when the western sun gives these pots a blast for an hour or two.

After I discovered a local cat in the garden I made a second birdbath nearer the house, between the ostrich ferns and the Rodgersia. The cat was staking out a more secluded one.

Bad cat! It climbed straight up and down the fence (I photographed it through the closed glass kitchen door). Yes, I miss having a cat of our own, very much. I spend a lot of time alone, and a cat companion is still my favourite kind. No, we may not have a cat. Them's the rules. End of story. So we watch for possums, instead.

This side of the garden faces east, with direct sun in the mornings, and also gets some western sun, so I have packed a lot in. As common as they are the two hydrangeas that I bought after we moved here give me great pleasure. They are full, easy to look after, and bloom for a very long time, staggered over months. And they take both summer's blazing heat and the Deep Dark of Winter. The so-called peegee (Hydrangea paniculata) blooms later - I don't even see buds, yet.

A late freeze in spring nailed some of my lily bulbs, which rotted after I had overwintered them carefully in peat-filled baggies in the fridge. But some regal lilies escaped harm and are looking beautiful. At their feet are some South African bulbs - pineapple lily, or Eucomis. They will bloom in late July, I think. 'Black Lace' elderflower on the right.

The fig (rear, above) that the Frenchman bought for me last year, and which the Gowanus Nursery very kindly delivered (it was very heavy) has fruit again - the main crop, on new growth. I am expecting a bird net to be delivered any day now, and then I will wrap it. I lost all the breba figs (on old wood) to some bird. or maybe the dang squirrel/s.

The Nicotiana mutabilis from Annie's Annuals turned out to be mostly lime green, but two were correct. Annie's sent me a gift voucher for the balance to make up for it, after I sent them some pictures and explained what had happened. Very good customer service. In the meantime, many Nicotiana volunteers have germinated in pots, and I have transplanted some to see what they turn out to be. I have grown N. sylvestris, alatus and mutabilis before, and they could be any of those. Again, hopeful hummingbird buffet.

The lovely thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) I planted the same fall that we moved in (2015). It has filled in nicely and has very tall threadlike stems and dancing flowers, each about an inch across.

The chartreuse Nicotiana don't look bad - I do like them. Especially as a backdrop for the complicated seedpods of Fritillaria raddeana (the frittilarias were a big success in spring).

Some grey sugar peas made it into the perennial beds. They are exquisite. The foxgloves bloomed this year for the first time - I planted them last year, also from Annie's. Unpromisingly named 'Polkadot Pippa' but billed to be everblooming. I'll deadhead and let you know.

And last, one of two perennials that predated our arrival - the ubiquitous day lily (Hemerocallis fulva), long limbed and useful to me because it is edible. And I love the flowers. I divided a massive clump and planted it in two spots.

Next post? Fruits! Or maybe vegetables.

We'll see.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Forage Walk, Captured

Photos: Michael Grimm

On my last scheduled plant walk of the summer, on a very, very hot Sunday, we walked through the coolth of Prospect Park. I changed our route to follow the trees. It was nice to have along several neighborhood friends, as well as walkers who attend so often they have frequent walker miles (FWM - I am working on appropriate rewards...).

Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) - very invasive in New York - is in prolific bloom in June. Its celery like spring leaves are a very good salad addition, raw. Cooked they add depth to vegetable and as well as meaty stews, stocks and soups. I have had a lot of fun with ground elder and its early flower buds, this year. Many recipes have evolved. Now, the flowers themselves are flavourful, and a little later the seeds, resembling fennel, but without its anise, are a year long spice rack staple.

Purple flowering raspberry - above - is the beautiful and indigenous Rubus odoratus. Its fruits are like flattened raspberries and look a lot like its close relative, thimble berry (Rubus parvifolius), which has white flowers. Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius), to be confusing, is an invasive cousin with glossy berries and very furry red canes.

We found late second year garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plants, setting seed. If you are patient enough to gather them, the dried seeds, contained in those narrow pods, are a very good and hot mustard.

 Good walker, taking notes.

And after all the walking and talking, we get to picnic. We shared a yogurt ramp cheese with mugwort crackers, quails eggs with ground elder and mugwort dipping salts, cattail pollen and honey and elder cordial madeleines, and serviceberry tartlets. A bucket of ice each would have been a nice touch. One day.

While the scheduled walks have come to a close as I work on my wild foods recipe book, the door is still open for pop up walks and impromptu cocktail strolls. If you would like to be on my mailing list, please get in touch. You can also follow my daily foraging adventures on Instagram, @66squarefeet.

(For the photos, thank you to Michael Grimm, who joined the walk and took many pictures, despite the dark looks I gave him.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Soweto Day

Photo of Hector Pieterson (carried), 12 years old: Sam Nzima

It is easy to forget, and many refuse to remember. To understand now, look back, then.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Oot and aboot the Canadians say.

On the streets of the hood, before three days of bloating heat (98'F/37'C today, relieved very soon by more humane temperatures) there have been flowers.

This extraordinary rose is 'Veilchenblau,' growing on the fence around the peerless Gowanus Nursery on Columbia Street, a few blocks from where we live and on the other side of the sunken and roaring Brooklyn Queens Expressway, known better locally as the BQE.

I ride my bike a lot. Best present ever. I don't go far,  but all over the nearby neighborhoods. I stopped to visit the rose on my way back from Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I had been given permission to harvest some cattails. It was a lot of fun - involving red rubber boots boots and wading.

Further east on another mission I stopped on Bond Street to see these hot roses.

On Court street this corner garden is always a delight. 

Otherwise? I have been busy picking serviceberries, finding elderflowers, huting linden blossoms, baking, testing, brewing, bottling, gardening, writing, walking with foragers, and then repeat. Also washing dishes, doing laundry, and vacuuming (I really resent housework but I can't concentrate on work if it's not done). 

So, you know, life. But the botanical clock does not stop, and I am marching to its orders. I just can't WAIT for the temperatures to drop a promised 20 degrees. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Prospect Park Wild Foods Walk

Prospect Park [sold out - please email me to join my mailing list]
11 June 2017 
12.30 pm - 2.30pm

There are just four spots left on this Sunday's walk in Prospect Park. It is probably my last walk of the season, as I focus on the cookbook I am writing.

Early summer has brought The Big Green to city parks: Trees are in luxuriant leaf, ground elder is in bloom, cup plants are climbing skywards and mugwort is taking over the world. 

Early June is elderflower time - we'll talk about how to make classic elderflower cordial. The shrub is easy to grow at home, too. 

June is also the harbinger of tilia (linden) blossom - where for 10 to 14 days in the year New York actually smells fantastic.

We walk, talk, scratch and sniff (plants, not each other) and gather at the end for a tasting picnic of wild flavors. It will feature a pâté of roasted carrots with elderflower cordial and elderflower vinegar, home made ramp and wild herb cheese, quails eggs with ground elder dipping salt, mugwort crackers, and cattail madeleines (or maybe serviceberries hand pies - haven't decided yet! Votes?).

A confirmation email with more details will be sent to walkers after they sign up.

SOLD OUT, sorry!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The stinking rose

My 12 (foot) x 12 vegetable plot at the back of our garden has at last yielded decent garlic. I planted eight rows, total, late last fall. Two short rows each of four kinds of garlic. The garlic above was planted from organic New York state bulbs, bought at the greenmarket (farmers market, for non New Yorkers) last fall. I pulled it earlier than I should have, but I needed the space for some bush beans and it was hogging a sunny spot. Key word: sunny.

The little garlics on the table above, left, are big enough to pickle. So they have been pickled. They are delicious to scrunch up on their own, with some toast, maybe, to add to curries, or drop into Gibsons.

There are the pretty ones, again. I'm afraid we have eaten half, already. The rest are in a petite braid, curing in a window.

What remains? Four more rows, including some elephant garlic, above, which has produced fatly beautiful scapes. These are finding their way into bright green spring minestrones, pestos and crunchy bruschetta.

Otherwise? After a quick dash around the garden with a cup of coffee it's mostly recipe writing and testing at my desk. Which is also the dining table, in winter. When I get worried about how well I am doing I remind myself that here are worse jobs. It's a little like playing, professionally, with occasional glimpses of glory (ramp leaf dumplings, tonight, for example, preceded by a ground elder cocktail that would have knocked my socks off, if I had been wearing any...).


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ten years and two books

The picture above was taken one Memorial Day weekend when the two moves that followed (to Harlem and then back to Brooklyn) were not even a whisper.

This first terrace, in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, a dozen blocks north of where we live now, was a sweet, quiet and private place. There are many things we miss about it, like the top floor sense of isolation, being able to see the sun and moon rise in the east, and the quick access to the roof and its wide, big sky horizons. Measuring those exact 66 square feet, this (lack of) space transformed my life. And the cat you see there, Don Estorbo, had a lot to do with it, too. He started his irascible blog a few months before I did. That gave me the idea to write this one: it will be ten years old, this June. The blog led to many good things. New and lasting friendships, writing for a living, the discovery of the Frenchman, all the way on Canada's British Columbian coast, and my first book.

So over on Instagram (@66squarefeet), for this little anniversary, I am giving away two copies of the book that this terrace inspired: 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life. Please follow that link if you'd like to enter the random draw. The deadline is Wednesday the 31st, 11PM, EST.

We now live in Carroll Gardens with about 1,000 square feet of garden - a fantastic luxury in a city like New York. We can move without bumping into things. I can grow more than token crops, at last. Eight rows of potatoes, rather than one pot. I can experiment with the wild plants that I like to forage. And our crazily weathered salvaged oak table, built just for this space, never runs out of surface area, like that little stone table above, which I now use as a potting bench.

We have learned things with each move. We have lost. We have gained. I miss aspects of each place we have lived. Just as I was happy to leave elements of each. I will write more about it, one day.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Inwood Hill Park Forage Walk

Inwood Hill Park Walk
28 May 2017
12.30pm - 3.30pm

There are four spots left on this Sunday's plant identification and forage walk in Inwood Hill park. Here you will find the forest in Manhattan that many New Yorkers have never seen. It is a beautifully green and peaceful place to explore, and a cooling antidote to the bad news that besieges us.

Taking any subway to the last stop on its line has a certain drama to it, and the A to 207th Street does not disappoint. The park lies a few minutes' walk west.

We meet at its entrance (big bonus - there is a bathroom!). The well populated flock of baseball fields is usually in full swing (Inwood's population is mostly Dominican, and baseball is big). At little tables under the trees neighborhood men argue over dominoes, and further along a small dog park's owners compare dog sizes and brilliance.

Another two minutes takes us into the forest, and suddenly it is silent. The tulip trees here are huge, straight, looming. Woodpeckers drill dead trunks and overhead an owl blinks. Spicebush trees congregate in this first valley, while on its sloped edges tendrils of catbriar tangle in the undergrowth.

Late Japanese knotweed tips are still tender enough to pick. Invasive mugwort and burdock hug paths and fields, while pokeweed shoots do Phoenix acts at the base of their dead bleached winter canes.

Indigenous wildflowers persist among mats of suffocating periwinkle and herds of day lilies. Nettles prick their way down a steep slope.

Annual jewelweed crowds damp ditches and reputedly offers sting relief.

This forest - the oldest on Manhattan island - offers a living tutorial in invasive plant interactions, woodland gardening possibilities and creative kitchen garden development. It is also like walking through a living pantry.

Depending on the progress and digressions we make, we begin with beautiful silence, hike up a hill, along a quiet ridge and then down the western side, beneath the roaring Henry Hudson Parkway. Here we see the Hudson River before we loop around, past wild blueberry bushes and under the big steel bridge and above the Spuyten Duyvil waterway.

At last, between a green lawn and a salt mash we settle down for our wild foods tasting picnic where you can sample some of the plants we have just seen.


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